Big Ten: Tom Brady

What a month for the Big Ten.

It began with a better-than-expected result on New Year's Day, typically a gloomy afternoon for the league. Then Ohio State won the national championship, the Big Ten's first crown since the 2002 season. More good news arrived Sunday as the Super Bowl XLIX matchup was set, featuring two quarterbacks from the Big Ten.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a Michigan product, will make his sixth Super Bowl appearance. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who played his final college season at Wisconsin, will attempt to become the first quarterback to win Super Bowls in consecutive seasons since Brady in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

It's the first time two starting quarterbacks who played for Big Ten schools will match up in a Super Bowl.

(This is the point where some grumps yell about how Wisconsin can't claim Wilson. Nice try. He was a very good quarterback at NC State. He became a national awards candidate and an All-American at Wisconsin under the tutelage of Paul Chryst. Wilson always will be a Badger. End of discussion).

Another Big Ten product, Garry Gilliam, figured prominently in Seattle's wild comeback in the NFC title game. The former Penn State tight end, who moved to tackle later in his career, caught a touchdown pass on a fake field-goal attempt, putting the Seahawks on the scoreboard.

Here's a full list of the Big Ten's Super Bowl XLIX connections:

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Active Roster
Injured/Reserve
Coaches
  • Head coach Pete Carroll was an Ohio State assistant in 1979
  • Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell played quarterback at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers to a Big Ten title in 1993 and a Rose Bowl championship
  • Running backs coach Sherman Smith was an Illinois assistant from 1992-94
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Active Roster

*-Did not play in Big Ten, as school joined conference later

Injured/Reserve
Practice Squad
  • Justin Green, cornerback, Illinois
  • Eric Martin, linebacker, Nebraska
Coaches
  • Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1999-2000
  • Tight ends coach Brian Daboll was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1998-99

B1G QBs fare well in Sunday's NFL games

September, 15, 2014
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We interrupt your regular feeling of Big Ten doom-and-gloom to bring you a positive conference announcement for once.

Sorry, B1G fans, it has nothing to do with this current college football season ... which probably doesn't come as a surprise. But at least it's something, right? In the NFL on Sunday, the Big Ten fared pretty darn well -- specifically at quarterback:

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Let me help you out with the names since two of these players aren't regular starters: First, of course, you have New England's Tom Brady (Michigan) with a win against Minnesota. And you have the names that should make Spartans fans smile: Washington's Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) against Jacksonville, Cleveland's Brian Hoyer (Michigan State) against New Orleans, and Arizona's Drew Stanton (Michigan State) against the New York Giants.

Stanton and Cousins were both filling in because of injuries to the regular starter. But Cousins performed so well he might start a quarterback controversy once Robert Griffin III returns, and Stanton sparked a fourth-quarter comeback.

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Granted, it's possible -- possible -- that only Brady will still be starting by year's end. But it's positive news for now, and the Big Ten does still have some current talent at the position.

One AFC veteran scout recently called Penn State's Christian Hackenberg the "top QB in college football." And, as long as Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller returns as planned, the Big Ten should once again boast at least one Heisman front-runner.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. It might not have been a good weekend for the Big Ten (again), but at least the conference had a good showing in the NFL. At least it's something.
Urban Meyer couldn't believe it.

Meyer hasn't spent his entire career in the Big Ten, but the Ohio State coach has a pretty good handle on the quarterback landscape in college football. Informed last month that a Big Ten quarterback hadn't been selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995, Meyer's jaw dropped.

"You're kidding me? Wow," he said. "That shouldn't be. Man, there hasn’t been a first-rounder? [Terrelle] Pryor probably would have been. Well, Tom Brady should have been. I never ...

"You've got me shocked."

Even a few questions later, Meyer couldn't get past the flabbergasting factoid.

"Wow," he said. "Twenty years?"

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPerhaps in a couple of years, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg will be the quarterback who breaks a 20-year drought for Big Ten passers in the first round of the NFL draft.
Unfortunately, Meyer's standout quarterback, Braxton Miller, won't end the streak this year because of injury. Miller would have led a Big Ten quarterback corps that looks strong but still lacks the star power found in the Pac-12 and elsewhere.

Several factors have contributed to the Big Ten's downturn, but quarterback play belongs high on the list. The league hasn't had an All-American quarterback since 2006, when Ohio State's Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy. Only one Big Ten quarterback has been selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft since 2008. That player, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, started his career in the ACC.

"It's been awhile since the Big Ten had a top-drawer guy," former Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "An elite-type quarterback certainly would help the conference."

To be clear, a first-round designation isn't the best way or the only way to measure a conference at one position.

"So Drew Brees sucks just because he was 5-11 and three quarters and he goes Pick 32?" Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "You would never want Tom Brady, ever. He's horrible! You’ve got to take Akili Smith or somebody."

Point taken.

Brees slipped to the first pick of the second round in 2001 because of his height. Brady is among the best to ever play the position, and Wilson just helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. At least five NFL teams will start Big Ten quarterbacks this season.

But the volume isn't there.

"Drew should have been a first-round guy, but let's say he was," Tiller said. "Hell, him and Kerry Collins, for cryin' out loud? That's a long time [without more]."

The Big Ten doesn't have as much trouble churning out elite linemen and running backs. Does the league's ground-and-pound image turn off top quarterbacks? Does the weather? Coaches say no.

"The weather is a positive," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "When the NFL scouts are going to grade these people, they want to know how they're going to play in all these different conditions."

Although many Big Ten programs use offenses that fit the league's stereotypes, those who emphasize quarterback-friendly systems can find the pieces. When Mike White came to Illinois in 1980, he brought with him two junior-college quarterbacks from California, Dave Wilson and Tony Eason. That fall, Wilson set an NCAA record with 621 yards against Ohio State. He was a first-round pick in the NFL supplemental draft in 1981. Two years later, Eason was the No. 15 overall pick, 12 spots ahead of a guy named Marino.

"I had the confidence when I hit the Big Ten that it wasn't a passing conference and I probably had an edge," said White, who coached at Illinois from 1980-87. "We proved that you could throw the ball in the Big Ten. Our kids loved it."

So did the fans. On Illinois' first play of the season, Wilson launched the ball downfield ... nowhere near his intended receiver.

"I think we got a standing ovation," White said.

Quarterback-friendly programs such as Illinois, Iowa and Purdue produced stars during that time. The Big Ten had six first-round quarterbacks between 1982-90. In 1997, Tiller arrived at Purdue and introduced a pass-driven spread offense. Brees began shattering league records.

But those were the exceptions, not the rule. Big Ten teams have often used run-driven offenses with game-managers under center.

"More and more guys just went back to the system that they had confidence in," White said. "I don't think they came in with a passion for the forward pass and how you can make it work, so consequently, it just became Big Ten football again."

Kevin Wilson notes some Big Ten teams haven't built around the quarterback spot and that, more than weather or league reputation, might hurt the strength of the position. But things appear to be improving.

Wilson runs a fast-paced, pass-heavy spread offense at Indiana. Michigan, which has great tradition at quarterback, is back to using a pro-style offense. Michigan State has a nice run of quarterbacks with Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and now Connor Cook. Penn State returns Christian Hackenberg, the Big Ten's freshman of the year in 2013.

"I don't think people can be fairly critical of the quarterbacks in the Big Ten," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo. "It's a pretty good group this year. Hackenberg could be the first guy taken, whenever he decides to go.

"He's a rare talent."

A few more rare talents at quarterback -- along with the right coaches and systems -- could give the Big Ten the boost it needs.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

May, 23, 2014
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Wishing you a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend. Barring breaking news -- fingers crossed -- we'll be back with you bright and early Tuesday.

Follow the Twitter brick road.

Mail call ...

Rajiv from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Do you think that there are any programs in the B1G that would automatically get or deserve a spot in the playoff if they ran the table in any given year? Secondly, suppose a team like Northwestern or Minnesota ran the table and then beat a 12-0 Michigan State team in the BIG Championship. Should one of those teams get an automatic bid? Don't think that situation would happen, but certainly an undefeated Ohio State would garner more recognition than Northwestern.

Adam Rittenberg: Rajiv, it's my belief that any major-conference team that runs the table and wins a league title game to go 13-0 would make the field of four. Why else would you expand the field from two to four? Most Big Ten teams are playing at least one marquee non-league opponent, so even if their league schedule is a little soft like Iowa's or Wisconsin's this year, a perfect mark would be enough to get them in, regardless of their reputation. It would be incredibly disappointing if the committee functions like poll voters and gives preferences to historically strong teams. There would have to be odd circumstances -- two or more undefeated teams from major conferences -- for a 13-0 Big Ten team to be left out.




 
Jason from Tampa writes: What are your thoughts around Penn State and its stance on the Paterno lawsuit? On one hand, Penn State is a defendant in the lawsuit, has made great strides, and a majority of the severe sanctions are behind them. On the other hand, Penn State might get temporary or full relief of all sanctions. Do you believe their stance is a calculated move to avoid bad publicity and not disrupt the relationship with the NCAA in regards to further sanction reductions?

Adam Rittenberg: Jason, I think your first point about Penn State making strides and moving past some of the more severe sanctions is a motivator for the school's position. There's no full relief from the sanctions, since Penn State has had two bowl-eligible teams stay home and continues to operate with reduced scholarships. But the school clearly feels that cooperation with the NCAA is the best route. Penn State also has aligned itself with the Freeh Report, which the Paterno family claims isn't credible. Ultimately, PSU seems too far down the road in lockstep with the NCAA to dramatically change its position.



 

Paul from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I heard Ed Cunningham say on "College Football Live" that from what he observed in the Big Ten last year that the QB play is very poor compared to other conferences. My question(s) to you is: 1) Do you really believe the QB play is that bad in the conference? 2) Who are the QBs in the BIG that could go and start for other major college football programs in other conferences? (You can pull names from last year as well).

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, quarterback play in the Big Ten has been down for some time. The league hasn't had a quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995. That's stunning. Although quarterbacks such as Drew Brees (Purdue), Tom Brady (Michigan) and Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) have gone on to win Super Bowls, the league isn't mass-producing elite signal-callers. Something needs to shift, and it could be the quality of quarterback coaches in the Big Ten. Besides Indiana's Kevin Wilson, are there any true QB gurus in the B1G?

Your second question is a bit tricky because there are some major-conference teams elsewhere with dire QB situations. But Braxton Miller, Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg could start for any FBS squad.



 

Moss from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: The Big Ten is starting to resemble a very wealthy yet dysfunctional family. Consumed by more wealth and shiny toys but not paying attention to their children (teams) as they grossly underperform. Is the BIG more interested in the brand than the actual product? The conference has all the advantages but can't seem to get its proverbial act together.

Adam Rittenberg: Moss, it just doesn't seem to add up. A league should be able to build its brand, generate revenue for its schools and win championships on the field. What do you mean by not paying attention? What do you want the Big Ten to do for its underperforming teams? That's the hard part. Commissioner Jim Delany gets criticized a lot, but he has significantly increased the resources for Big Ten programs, which can pay coaches more and invest in their facilities. Ultimately, the Big Ten can move its campuses to the south and west, where more of the elite players are. But I don't agree the league is neglecting its programs by trying to expand its brand.



 

@roberthendricks via Twitter writes: Do you think OSU has a long-term solution going forward in J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones or Stephen Collier? I know taking a hot QB in this class is essential, but what if they don't? Post-Braxton fear is setting in.

Adam Rittenberg: That fear is real, Robert, as Ohio State's quarterback situation beyond 2014 seems cloudy. Miller's injury this spring allowed Jones and Barrett both to get some significant work in practice. While both struggled in the spring game, Jones enters the summer as Miller's primary backup. Ohio State would be wise to get at least one, if not both, into games this season, even in mop-up time. Collier seems like more of a project, and all three men need some time to develop. I don't think it's realistic to expect Ohio State's next quarterback to match Miller's big-play ability.

Video: Gardner excited for rivalry

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
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Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner discusses the significance of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry, how he has developed as a leader, what he learned from Tom Brady and learning to handle adversity.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
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On this day in 1851, the United States won its first ever America’s Cup. And for winning it all, you get a silver trophy. Oh, yachting.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
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100 days away ...

Michigan did what it was supposed to do Saturday against UMass, flattening the first-year FBS program 63-13 with another big performance from its quarterback.

The Wolverines were able to build some defensive confidence, play a lot of their younger players and establish some sort of running game before next week's matchup against Notre Dame.

It was over when: Denard Robinson cut across the field on a scramble and ran 36 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. The touchdown run gave the Wolverines a 35-10 lead and also gave Michigan complete control after Robinson threw an interception that resulted in a UMass touchdown earlier in the quarter. From there, Michigan routed.

(Read full post)



ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Denard Robinson has always been hard to define by standard notions of quarterback play. He plays with his shoelaces out, throws the ball up for grabs at times and rips off game-breaking runs.

Those things were good enough to make him one of the most exciting players in the country the past two years, and for him to lead Michigan to a Sugar Bowl victory last season. But they weren't good enough for head coach Brady Hoke, whose idea of a Wolverines quarterback is more along the lines of Tom Brady and Brian Griese, guys who carried themselves a certain way on and off the field.

So Hoke did something unusual this offseason. He asked his star player, the guy who has seemingly single handedly willed Michigan to victories in the past, to change some of personality traits as a senior.

"You look at the legacies of the guys who played that position here, and there's something about it from a maturity standpoint, from a leadership standpoint and their business-like approach," Hoke told ESPN.com. "We have an expectation of how a quarterback handles himself, a little bit more maybe than he understood."

Hoke wanted Robinson to rely not just on his talent and likable nature, but to become a forceful, vocal leader. That meant getting into the film room more, working harder on off days, shoring up his fundamentals and speaking out more in the locker room and in public. That last part might have been the toughest demand.

"I'm normally a very laid back person," he said. "Just chilling, smiling, having a good time."

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesCoach Brady Hoke has pushed quarterback Denard Robinson to take on more of a leadership role as he enters his senior year.
But Robinson is beginning to show a different side of himself. It's apparent on the practice field, where he's now more apt to guide traffic. It's apparent even in interviews, as a guy who often said little to the media now seems ready to become more of a team spokesman. When I asked Robinson a simple "How's your spring going?" to begin an interview this week, he eagerly responded with more words than I'd ever heard him say at one time.

While speaking to reporters won't help Michigan win games, it could change the way Robinson is perceived as a quarterback and endear him to voters for national awards, not that he cares much about individual honors. Moreover, it enhances his position as a leader when he can talk on his teammates' behalf.

So why didn't Robinson, who is entering his third year of starting at the most prominent position, take this approach before?

"I wasn't there yet," he says. "But senior year came up fast. Now, you're a leader and you've got to step it up.

"In the past, I spoke up when I needed to or when somebody needed to be talked to. Now, it's more me letting guys know what they should do and what they can do on and off the field."

Hoke likes the way his quarterback is improving in the leadership role. The next step is for Robinson to become more consistent.

He had some monster games last season, like his heroics against Notre Dame and Ohio State, and he led the Big Ten in total offense for a second straight season. But he also threw more interceptions (15) than any league quarterback while getting bailed out on some throws by receivers in the Sugar Bowl and other games. Michigan survived those turnovers last season but doesn't want to have to do it again.

"Unacceptable," Robinson says of his interceptions. "That's something I take upon myself as a quarterback to do better for the team."

Robinson said at least 10 of his picks came when he threw off his back foot. He repeatedly made that fundamental mistake even though offensive coordinator Al Borges kept telling him that every time he threw off his back foot, Borges covered his eyes and waited for something bad to happen.

A lot of that, Robinson said, was just poor technique. Not following through on his throws and "getting into the fight" as Borges likes to say. And some of it was Robinson just trying to make a huge play out of nothing -- which, to his credit, has actually worked in the Wolverines' favor a lot during his career. Borges has told his quarterback to avoid trying to make a miracle, yet miracles are a part of Robinson's game.

"That's what's hard," Borges said. "You don't want to hinder him too much. But there is a line. And I think he's getting better about understanding that line."

Robinson has focused on stepping into his throws this spring, and Borges says he has made "less indiscriminate" and "catastrophic" throws than he did last fall. While the jump-ball aspect of Michigan's offense won't disappear completely, Borges might actually be able to watch more while it's happening.

"From a physical standpoint, of how we want him to do things, he's further along than he was at end of the season," Hoke says of Robinson's fundamentals.

One thing that hasn't changed is Robinson's effervescent personality and positive energy. Teammates marvel at how he never seems to have a bad day or gets down even when things aren't going well. Receiver and close friend Roy Roundtree describes Robinson as "the cheesiest cow out there. That guy's always smiling, even if we're losing."

Robinson said that's just the way he's always been. His mom showed him pictures when he played little league, and he was out there grinning just as wide as he does now. That sometimes belies what he's really thinking, though.

"Sometimes I'd get in trouble for smiling too much in class or during games," he said. "People always think you're out to get them with that smile."

This year, he's out to talk and lead as much as he smiles. And that would make Hoke very happy.
The Danny O'Brien tour is in full swing.

O'Brien, the former Maryland quarterback, reportedly visited Penn State during the weekend. After a midweek stop at Ole Miss, O'Brien will head to Wisconsin, according to The Badger Nation's Benjamin Worgull. Wisconsin also is in the mix for another quarterback transfer, former Kansas signal caller Jordan Webb, who is exploring Colorado as well.

It's no secret that both Penn State and Wisconsin could really, really use another quarterback. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten signal caller Russell Wilson and might not be able to count on the injury-plagued Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips. Penn State's quarterback situation has been messy the past two seasons, and while Matthew McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones all remain with the team, the Lions really could use a guy like O'Brien.

Both Big Ten schools face competition for O'Brien's services, particularly from SEC suitors Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, but they also offer exciting opportunities for the former ACC rookie of the year.

Let's take a look at the sales pitches Wisconsin and Penn State might make to O'Brien.

Wisconsin's pitch: Remember this guy? He made a seamless transition from an ACC program to Wisconsin, setting team and NCAA records in leading the Badgers to a second consecutive Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance. He flourished in a pro-style offense that will remain in place despite a coordinator change. You can be the next Russell Wilson, Danny. And like Russell, you'll step into an offense built to succeed. You might have heard of this guy. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, and he chose to return for his senior year. You won't share a backfield with a better running back than Montee Ball, Danny. You also won't play behind a better offensive line. Sure, we lose some All-Americans, but we did after the 2010 season and didn't take any steps back. Our offensive lines always are among the nation's elite. You'll also be working with a proven receiver in Jared Abbrederis and an excellent tight end in Jacob Pedersen. Still not convinced? You might have heard of the "Jump Around." It's pretty sweet. So is State Street. Come to Madison, Danny, and help Wisconsin defend its Big Ten championship.

Penn State's pitch: You might have heard of this guy. Sure, he's a Michigan guy, but our new head coach, Bill O'Brien, served as his offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots this past season and helped the Patriots to some record-setting performance. O'Brien knows quarterbacks, and he can help you take your game to the next level. Bill O'Brien can revolutionize the quarterback position at Penn State. You won't find better preparation for the NFL than two years in O'Brien's offense, which will test you mentally. Doesn't O'Brien coaching O'Brien have a nice ring to it? Plus, you'll share a backfield with one of the nation's most dynamic young running backs in Silas Redd. Receiver Justin Brown returns, and the tight end position should be significantly upgraded under O'Brien, who helped make Gronk a cult hero. You also can play before 106,000 people in one of the nation's best college towns. This is a historic time at Penn State, Danny. Be a part of the next chapter.
Bill O'Brien might not have had direct ties to Penn State before becoming the team's head coach Jan. 6, but he wanted some assistants with connections to the school and to the state. He found one in quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, a native of Allenwood, Pa., located about 65 miles east of State College. Fisher's has strong Penn State roots, as you'll see below, but he spent most of his career in the south and southeast, aside from a stint as Temple's offensive coordinator and his most recent stop as quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator at Miami (Ohio) in 2011.

He has extensive experience tutoring quarterbacks, including former Vanderbilt star Jay Cutler, and will be one of O'Brien's most crucial hires, not to mention his final addition to the staff. Although O'Brien didn't appoint an offensive coordinator, he'll work closely with Fisher to guide the unit and mentor the quarterbacks, who have struggled the past two seasons.

ESPN.com caught up with Fisher earlier this week. Here are his thoughts on his new job and his homecoming:

Why Penn State?

Charlie Fisher: I would say why not? It's just an unbelievable opportunity. The blue and white runs through my family so deep. I've got brothers who graduated from here, nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts, sister-in-laws, my whole family are Penn State people. Where I come from, everybody is Penn State. It's just exciting, an unbelievable opportunity for me personally. And my wife's from where I grew up, we went to high school together, so you can imagine the excitement within our family.

Did you grow up going to Penn State games?

CF: I did. If you can believe this, I used to sit in the end zone in the wooden bleachers of Beaver Stadium. That tells you how long ago that was. Late sixties, I came up here. I had season tickets, so I saw two or three years of games, like from '68 to '70 or '71, somewhere in that range. My brother went to school here and he graduated high school in '70, so it was right in that time frame.

How did this job come about for you?

CF: I certainly knew Bill. I had a good connection with Ted Roof, the defensive coordinator. Glenn Spencer, who was on my staff at West Georgia when I was the head guy there, worked with coach O'Brien at two different stops, so obviously he had a great connection to coach O'Brien. So things just clicked. It's one of those things that just clicked at the right time. We spent some time together and hit it off, saw things the same way from the quarterback position and what he wanted to do offensively. I've got so much respect for coach O'Brien. He's a wonderful guy and a great coach.

What are some of the similarities you shared with him as far as the vision for the offense?

CF: The diversity of a good, physical running game, a great play-action game, being able to use all the tools within the offense, and getting guys involved as they did at New England. As good as Tom Brady was, they were a good running football team. Certainly we want to be here, and have been. Where we want to continue to improve and develop is in the passing game, and be a wonderful play-action team. And using all our guys. [The Patriots] had so much success using the tight end position there.

What type of growth needs to happen in the passing game?

CF: Being here the first time around, we don't know who our [starter] is. We'll find that out between spring ball and camp. It's an open competition. We have two who have played a lot [Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden], and we've got a third guy who we think is a major talent. He just to this point has not played in Paul Jones. But Bolden and McGloin have played. They've had open competition, they all got snaps, so that's an advantage going in. They have experience. Now we have to find out what do they do, maximize their ability, get them playing consistently and get them making plays in the pass game. Because if you look at numbers, that's an area where Penn State's offense has to improve, throwing the football.

Have you had a chance to meet with those guys and watch any tape of them from previous seasons?

CF: I've met with 'em. I have not had a chance to sit down and watch them extensively on tape, other than watching the bowl game because I'm a Penn State guy. And really, I've always guarded against that. I don't like going into a situation and just filling my brain with what they did. I'm more concerned with what they're going to do, and I've always looked at it like that. Things will be different offensively. The way we do things will be different. That's not to say it's right or wrong from anybody else, it's just the way you do things, the way you approach things. We want to look forward, not back.

What are some of the challenges for a quarterback in the system you and Bill want to run?

CF: Obviously, they're going to have to be smart guys, understand what we want to do from just running the offense. It's a pro-style offense, so there are going to be things they'll have to learn that are going to be totally different. That would be the foremost challenge. They're the point guy. They've got to be the leader. They've got to be the guy to take this offense and run with it. So we've got to identify that guy, first and foremost, who's going to be a great leader for us, who's going to embrace what we're doing, who's going to learn it and run it and be able to execute it.

You haven't been there, but why do you think it's been a struggle for Penn State to produce elite quarterbacks? It's been a long time since Penn State has had a quarterback drafted. It hasn't been a quarterback factory at Penn State. Any thoughts on why that's the case?

CF: That's really hard to quantify not having been here. A lot of it sometimes is maybe just the focus on what you're doing. If you're more of a heavy run-game team, and Penn State's always been great running the football with the tailback. Certainly how quarterback-friendly the system may be may lead to success. If you look across the nation, there are certain things that they're asking the quarterback to do or how much they're allowing him to do that leads to some success. But that's hard to measure having not been here. Certainly looking forward, we have to go out and get that guy who can be elite for us, and lead coach O'Brien's offense and what he wants to do. Now let's find that guy.

As the quarterbacks coach, how much input will you have on schemes and play calls?

CF: I would feel like I'll certainly have some in the offensive game plan. Coach O'Brien will have final say on everything. Coach O'Brien is a quarterback guy, so we've got to be joined at the hip. We've got to think the same, and we've got to put our heads together on what we feel is best. His track record offensively is so good. He's had success in the NFL as a coordinator, so it's going to be interesting and exciting for me to learn the things he wants to do, interject any ideas I may have, and mesh them together as best we can. But we're going to run his offense and move forward that way.

What's it like to work for a coach with a background like O'Brien's? Is it similar to what you did at Miami (Ohio) with Don Treadwell, a former offensive play-caller?

CF: There's only so many plays you can run. It's just the way you approach it, the way you dress them up, that kind of thing. Certainly coach O'Brien has a unique vision, having coached in the NFL and coached arguably the best quarterback to play in the NFL. So for me, it's exciting. How much better can it be to share the same vision with a great coach, and to learn from him, and have a chance to interject and help in any way that you can?

You mentioned you met with the players. What's your message to them and what will your message be as far as getting ready for the spring and what you'll look for?

CF: The first thing they've got to do is put the time in to learn what we're trying to do. We don't start spring ball until the end of March, so they've got time to learn what to do. And we've got to develop consistency in the group, and we've got to identify that [top] guy. Hopefully, somebody emerges out of spring. If not, it's going to carry on and we're going to see who emerges, who's going to be able to grasp things mentally, what can they grasp and that kind of thing. But at that position, it's so important that you find a guy who can number one, lead your team, and number two, play with consistency and who you know what you're going to get day in and day out.

What were your initial impressions of them as guys?

CF: Great kids. They're buying in 100 percent. They're excited about the vision coach O'Brien's bringing here. I put myself in their shoes. If I'm the quarterback at Penn State and the offensive coordinator from New England comes and takes the head job, how could you not be excited about that? All you've got to do is look at the success of their offense, their quarterback play and the way they use their guys. As an offensive player at Penn State, you look at how they use their tight end, their wideouts and running backs, all the diversity in their offense. So as an offensive player in general, that's got to be exciting, but certainly as a quarterback, you know it's a quarterback-friendly offense.

So they're excited, they're eager, they want to learn. I've been impressed with them. They work hard in the weight room and they want to get better. They're trying to grasp what we're doing, so it's going to be exciting. And they know, 'Hey, we've got to step it up. We've got to do our part at that position because everything revolves around that spot.'

You weren't involved in this year's recruiting class but you will be going forward. What are some of the things you'll be looking for in quarterbacks who you want to bring to Penn State?

CF: We're going to recruit a pro-style quarterback. So we want a guy that is smart, he's a great competitor, he's going to be mentally tough, physically tough. At the forefront, we want to find a guy who's accurate, who can put the ball on the money, knows where it's going to go and can get the ball out of his hands. So accuracy, release, arm strength is always nice to have, but you want a guy who can put the ball on the money, knows where it's going and can get it out of his hands.

Even though I wasn't involved in this recruiting class, I actually took a very strong look at [incoming freshman] Steven Bench when I was at Miami, and at Vanderbilt I recruited south Georgia, so I've known about Steven Bench the last couple years. And I love him. He's got athleticism, he can throw the ball, he's a great competitor. We're really excited about him coming into this offense. He maybe flew under the radar a little bit, but I've seen that guy and he's a good player and he plays in a very good conference in south Georgia. He's got a good arm and he's very competitive. He's a coach's son, so you know he's been around the game his whole life.
Fourteen former Big Ten players will soon be the proud owners of new Super Bowl championship rings.

The league had 23 players on the two Super Bowl squads, and several played key roles in the New York Giants' victory against New England. Michigan product Mario Manningham had five catches for 73 yards, including the spectacular 38-yard reception that sparked the game-winning drive. Illinois' Steve Weatherford averaged 40.8 yards on four punts and placed three inside the Patriots' 10-yard line. It was a tough night for Big Ten tight ends, as Ohio State's Jake Ballard and Wisconsin's Travis Beckum each suffered knee injuries during the game. But both won rings.

The entire list of the 14 former Big Ten players who were on the Giants' championship team is as follows:
Several Giants coaches also have Big Ties, including offensive line coach Pat Flaherty (a former assistant at Iowa and Penn State), secondary and cornerbacks coach Peter Giunta (ex-assistant at Penn State), linebackers coach Jim Herrmann (former player and assistant at Michigan), and running backs coach Jerald Ingram (ex-player and graduate assistant at Michigan).

The Patriots had eight former Big Ten players on the roster, led by Tom Brady. While Brady failed to win his fourth title, he did set a Super Bowl record with 16 consecutive completions during the game.

And, of course, Bill O'Brien finished his duties as New England offensive coordinator and can now concentrate on being Penn State's new head coach.
If Penn State fans are disappointed with the list of candidates for the school's head-coaching vacancy, they should check out another list: the school's recent quarterbacks.

This exercise isn't meant to further depress Nittany Lions supporters. It actually should get them excited about the team's future under new coach Bill O'Brien.

Bear with me here.

[+] EnlargePenn State's Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMatt McGloin (11), Rob Bolden (1) and all quarterbacks who follow could be the biggest beneficiaries of new coach Bill O'Brien.
One of the biggest knocks on Penn State during the Joe Paterno era was the team's inability to produce viable NFL quarterbacks. Unless Kerry Collins returns to an NFL team in 2012, Penn State will have no former quarterbacks playing quarterback at the next level (Michael Robinson is a running back for the Seattle Seahawks). The San Francisco 49ers in 2006 drafted Robinson as a running back, meaning that Penn State hasn't had a quarterback selected in the NFL draft since 1997, when the Baltimore Ravens selected Wally Richardson in the seventh round.

That's a stunning drought for a program considered a traditional power. In the Big Ten, only Minnesota and Nebraska have gone longer without having a quarterback selected.

Penn State has had only two other quarterbacks drafted -- Collins, a first-round pick in 1995, and Tony Sacca, a second-round pick in 1992 -- since Todd Blackledge in 1983. Sacca played only two games in his pro career. Blackledge played six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, throwing 29 touchdowns and 38 interceptions in his career.

While Penn State has produced some solid college quarterbacks -- most recently Daryll Clark, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year -- the program has been lacking at the position.

O'Brien could provide a boost at quarterback and for an offense that ranked 93rd nationally this season and that has finished in the top 30 nationally just twice (2002, 2008) since the 2000 season. One of the common complaints I've heard from Penn State fans, particularly the past two seasons, is that the team's offense is stuck in the past.

O'Brien has worked with one of the best quarterbacks to ever play -- Tom Brady -- the past few years with the New England Patriots. While his track record as an offensive coordinator in college isn't overly impressive, he was part of a Maryland staff that produced the nation's No. 28 offense in 2003. Georgia Tech finished 15th nationally in total offense in 2000, while O'Brien served as the team's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.

If nothing else, O'Brien has seen what good offense and good quarterback play looks like. The Patriots rank second in the NFL in both total offense (428 ypg) and pass offense (317.8), and third in scoring (32.1 ppg).

That doesn't mean O'Brien's arrival automatically makes Penn State one of the Big Ten's top offenses in 2012. But if he hires the right staff and can develop players effectively, things will be looking up for the Lions attack. Penn State needs much more out of the quarterback position than it received this year, as Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden shared time and neither had much success.

Maybe O'Brien gets the most out of McGloin. Maybe O'Brien fosters the development not seen from Bolden. Maybe another quarterback emerges this fall under O'Brien's tutelage.

O'Brien clearly has more important things on his plate as he transitions into a job he's never held before.

But his presence in State College could be just what Penn State needs to upgrade the most important position on the field.
NEW ORLEANS -- Greetings from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where tonight No. 13 Michigan faces No. 11 Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Michigan makes its first BCS bowl appearance since the 2007 Rose Bowl, and aims for its first BCS bowl victory since the 2000 Orange Bowl, when Tom Brady led the Wolverines past Alabama. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is used to the big stage, having played in three of the past four Orange Bowls.

A bit of pregame news, of the unsurprising variety. Michigan senior defensive lineman Will Heininger is out with a sprained right foot. Junior Will Campbell will start in his spot at defensive tackle, and Quinton Washington will back up Ryan Van Bergen at defensive tackle. Coach Brady Hoke has told Van Bergen and Mike Martin to be prepared to play every snap, and both seniors have done extra conditioning after practice to prepare. The Wolverines' defensive line depth will be tested tonight as Heininger and Nathan Brink both are out.

The fan breakdown should be interesting. For all the talk about Virginia Tech's bowl allotment, Hokies fans appear to be out in force here in the Big Easy. Plenty of Michigan fans are here as well, excited to see their team back on the big bowl stage.

Michigan seemed like the popular pick when the pairing was announced, but it seems like more folks are leaning toward Virginia Tech now, including ESPN colleagues David Pollack and Todd McShay. The teams are evenly matched, but I'm sticking with my pick: Michigan 27, Virginia Tech 21. Could be bad news for the Wolverines as I'm only 6-3 in bowl picks so far.

Much more to come from the dome throughout the night, so don't even think about going anywhere.

What to watch in the Big Ten bowls

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
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A Big Ten-record 10 teams will be playing in bowls this season, beginning on Dec. 27 with Purdue in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and ending Jan. 3 with Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Here are several things to watch during the Big Ten's bowl season:

1. Wisconsin's quest for redemption: Anyone in the locker room after Wisconsin's 21-19 loss to TCU in the 2011 Rose Bowl could sense the unfiltered anguish and disappointment. The narrow defeat fueled the Badgers throughout the offseason. Now they're back in Pasadena with a chance to finish what they couldn't against TCU. No game will shape the Big Ten's national perception more than the Rose, and Wisconsin is an underdog against a formidable Oregon team that has stumbled twice on the big stage. The Badgers can establish themselves as a nationally elite team with a win, while a loss will show they're not quite there.

2. B1G attempts to atone vs. SEC: While the Big Ten has held its own against the SEC in non-BCS bowls, the SEC embarrassed the Big Ten in last year's games. SEC teams beat their Big Ten opponents by a combined score of 138-45 in the Capital One, Outback and Gator bowls. The Big Ten can't afford such a porous showing this season, and the three matchups with the SEC appear more favorable (Nebraska-South Carolina in Capital One, Michigan State-Georgia in Outback, Ohio State-Florida in TaxSlayer.com Gator). While the Big Ten will have to wait at least another year to end the SEC's streak of national titles, it must fare better in these games. Michigan State might have the most at stake as the Spartans were humbled 49-7 last year in the Capital One Bowl and have yet to win a bowl game under coach Mark Dantonio. While a narrow Big Ten title loss still stings, the Spartans should be motivated Jan. 2.

3. Penn State's motivation in Dallas: Penn State players had nothing to do with the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, but they paid a price for the fallout as several bowl games passed over the Nittany Lions and selected teams they beat (Northwestern, Iowa, Ohio State). Lions players didn't seem too pleased when they learned they had slipped to the TicketCity Bowl, and it will be interesting to see how a team that has dealt with so much since early December responds on Jan. 2. The Penn State-Houston matchup features two talented teams with star players (Devon Still, Case Keenum) but no permanent coaches. It will be interesting to see which Penn State team shows up to finish off a season like none other.

4. Big Ten bowl streaks (both good and bad): There are several streaks to monitor in the Big Ten as bowl season begins. Northwestern looks for its first postseason win since the 1949 Rose after dropping eight straight bowls, including ones in each of the past three years. Dantonio, who has revolutionized the Michigan State program, aims for the elusive first bowl win with the Spartans. Michigan ends a five-year drought without a BCS bowl appearance but looks for its first BCS bowl win since the 2000 Orange when some guy named Tom Brady played quarterback for the Wolverines. Iowa has been the Big Ten's best bowl representative in recent years and tries to continue its streak of three consecutive postseason wins when it takes on heavy favorite Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl.

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